July 2010 Review

July felt like a long month. With all the hot summer weather and long days we’ve been having, it seems like there’s been time for so many different activities. And without further ado, here’s a recap of some of the interesting things that went on during my July.

1. Weilin Visiting from Australia
Early in the month, I had a friend from Australia come and visit. We had met a couple years ago from a cultural exchange trip to China, and it’s been nice to keep in touch (even if sporadically) over the years, and pickup our friendship and fun times from where we left off. It was also nice to have a chance to play tour guide and show off the fantastic city I get to call home. Some of my favourite experiences were going on a tour of the Steamwhistle brewery, riding the Maid of the Mist ferry in Niagara Falls, and taking lots of comical photos.

2. Swimming
This month, I decided to return to part of last year’s morning routine – which is waking up early to hit the pool and get some exercise. The schedule that I’ve set up for myself is to go on Mondays as well either Thursday or Friday. The first day getting back in the pool after a several month layoff felt quite rough. I was much more out of breath than I remembered and everything just felt awkward. On the bright side, by the end of this month, I feel like I’m really getting my form back and getting back up to where I left off. There are a couple of things I’m going to focus on for the next couple weeks. They are: balanc ein the water, stronger kicking, and more distance per pull. I think after that I’m going to seriously start working on my flipturns.

3. Celebrating Wing’s Birthday on Centre Island
Another highlight of the month was celebrating Wing’s birthday on Centre Island. I got introduced to a new frisbee-related game, got a chance to play some disc golf, and spend an enjoyable afternoon outside.

4. Biking
In the middle of the month, I finally got around to fixing the flat tire on my bike. I’ve had it since last fall, and unfortunatlely the first replacement patch that I put on the inner tube didn’t hold and then the new inner tube that I bought had a really slow leak that ended up not being very usable. Finally, I had enough of not being able to bike around and hastily one Saturday morning decided to finally get out and get my inner tube fixed. I was in a bit of a rush to get going, but luckily, I manager to swing by the bike store, get a replacement inner tube, rush home, and in 20 minutes flat change the inner tube, pump it up, and go for a quick test ride to make sure all was A-OK. It was a bit of a mad scramble, but it got done, and now I have a bike back in riding shape. Anyone up for a bike ride in August/September?

5. Rooftop tour of Royal York
As part of our non-profit organization YUF CSA, we organizaed a tour of the rooftop gardens of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. They’ve got a whole variety of stuff growing up there, inculding lots of herbs, a few grape vines, and even a number of bee hives. It was really interesting to see what they’ve got growing up there, and it even gave me a few inspirations for things I’d like to try to grow in the future.

6. Crab Apple Cider
As another of my random summer experiments, I decided to try making crab apple cider. I picked about a quater of a bushel of crab apples one day and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours washing, coring them, and simmering them over water and a moderate amount of sugar. After the simmering, I strained the resulting liquid through a cheesecloth and was left with a beautiful pink coloured liquid. Because I didn’t add that much water when making the cider, there was a very strong astringent after-taste of the crabapples. Besides the after-taste, it is actually really tasty and refreshing. The way I ended up using it was to dilute it with water, and mix it with a cold-brewed pot of green or black tea for a refreshing iced crab apple green tea beverage.

7. Shiitake Mushroom Harvest
July also marked the month for my second harvest of shiitake mushrooms. After soaking the logs in ice water overnight (you need to literally add a bunch of ice to your container) and then “shocking” the logs by smacking each end with a hammer, each log produced a handful of large, earthy, beautiful shiitake mushrooms. They were probably the best mushrooms I’ve ever had, stir fried with butter, and a litte salt and pepper. Yum!

8. Strategic Planning Session
July was also the month where we had some time to sit down for some strategic planning sessions. We’ve got a couple of ideas we’re looking to implement going forward, so look for new things happening in the future.

9. CBC Metro Morning Interview
Right near the end of the month, I had a chance to speak again with Matt Galloway on the CBC Radio program Metro Morning. It was a fantastic opportunity to promote my business spread the word about what I do. Originally they wanted to do a program more geared towards the early harvest of the summer fruits, but since we don’t really have a focus on summer fruit, we ended up talking about the early harvest of veggies and how we help people in the city grow and connect with the freshest, locally grown food.

10. Eat-in at City Hall
Also at the end of the month, I went for an “eat-in” event at City Hall. Designed to bring people together to talk about food as an election issue, it was a nice chance to network and meet with other people involved in the local food scene. As a bonus, it also drew out a couple of the mayoral candidates and/or their representatives.

11. Frisbee
As many of you know, frisbee is one of my favourite sports. And July just seemed to be the month where my throwing game has really started to tighten up and become more consistent. While I’ve usually been one of the main handlers on my Tuesday team, it’s been nice to be able to step up my game for my Wednesday team as well when some of the other guys haven’t been on top of their game.

After many years and thousands of throws, my consistency and accuracy has gone way up, I’m comfortable hucking the disc my game-time throwing decisions have improved, making a variety of break throws aren’t anything to get nervous about, and being able to place the disc in the hands of the receiver at the right speed, at the right angle, and right place has also improved as well.

That’s it for this July update. It’s been a busy, but good month.


April and May 2010 Review

**So I had this update written for the beginning of June, but just forgot to post it. Here it is, a month late, but better late than never.**

Another month has passed and it’s time for my monthly review. Since May of last year (2009), I was on a pretty good streak of keeping up with these updates, until this past April when I was just too busy to even think about writing an update. So here goes a double header update for both April and May.

April Review
Lots of things were happening, with the majority of my time focused on my business in terms of going out on sales calls, prepping materials for our upcoming jobs, and networking within the local food community. It was a busy month

1. Elected to be a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council
First up, I got nominated to become a member of the TFPC. This is a volunteer council, though there are a couple paid staff members, which is part of the Toronto Board of Health, that advises the city on food policy and related issues. The council is primarily made up of people who have been involved in the local food movement for many years now, and have lots of experience in a whole variety of sectors. I had a chance to skim some of the bios of the other members, and they have a long list of accomplishments which I think seriously overshadow some of the things that I’ve done in the past. Despite the wealth of experience of council members, they are bringing in some more young people to voice their opinions, and it is through the relatively new Toronto YOUTH Food Policy Council (which I am also a member of), I got nominated to be one of the two youth representatives on the council.

More information on the council canbe found here (http://www.toronto.ca/health/tfpc_index.htm), though I’ve been told the website is many, many years old and is not regularly updated

2. Spoke with Matt Galloway on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning
Towards the end of the month, I got a call from one of the producers of Metro Morning asking if I’d be interested in going into the studio to speak about my involvement in the local urban agriculture secene. Not wanting to turn down such a great opportunity, I accepted wholeheartedly. It was a whirlwind experience where everything happened very quickly. I got a call on Monday asking to see if I’d be interested in participating, got a call back the next day to confirm the time, then on Thursday morning, I found myself sitting in the studio with Matt Galloway as well as with another urban farmer Daniel Hoffman. The interview took place early on Thursday morning (around 6:45am), I arrived at the studio around 6:30, the interview lasted less than 10 minutes, and then I was out the door and on my way for the rest of the day right afterwards. It was a cool experience and I’m happy to say that we got some more business for both the CSA and our private service out of this interview.

 

3. Grant approval for our non-profit
One of the most exciting news to share this month was that our non-profit Young Urban Farmers CSA got approved for a grant from the Big Carrot. Lots of time and effort went into preparing the application, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help from many of our great volunteers. I know I definitely breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we have some funding to help sustain our operations for this year. As with most non-profits, funding is always an issue and it’s nice to see that all of our costs will be covered through our shareholders and this grant for this year.

4. The Drake Hotel
Another piece of exciting news was that we landed a pretty high profile commercial account. While the garden that we set up for them is tucked away in a back alley behind the hotel and not very visible, it is still a great opportunity for us to expand to more commercial customers in the future.

5. Online store sales orders

Back in March, we launched an e-commerce store as a way to help get our brand out there and service more people than just in our current geographic reach of the GTA. Not really expecting too much, I was pleasantly surprised as many people somehow were able to find our website and placed a couple orders with us. No SEO or web optimization or anything was done (which is on my to-do list once things start to settle down) to draw people to our site, and some of these customers mentioned that they found us through a simple web search. Maybe this is just one successful example of the phrase “build it and they will come”.

6. Easter
Easter was a bit of a low-key time of year for me. My parents were out of town, but I had the chance to be there for my friend Derek’s baptism. It was also great to see a bunch of old Queen’s people I hadn’t seen in a while too.

That about sums it up for the month of April. I’m sure more things happened that I’ve forgotten about, but that’s all for now.

May review
May has been a hot and dry month. I was able to get my farmer’s tan on, setting up a ton of gardens this year (I’ve actually lost track of how many I’ve put in so far). I’m glad things are starting to slow down a bit more as I can’t keep up the same pace of work for so long.

1. Three Feature Articles in The Globe and Mail
Over the past year, we’ve been very fortunate to have a number of high profile media outlets speak and profile us in their publications (Toronto Life, Toronto Star, CBC Radio). This month, several opportunities came up where YUF was profiled in the small business section, I was profiled in the May 24 gardening special, and our CSA was also talked about in the same paper on the same day as well. I know it’s been huge in terms of generating awareness and will only help business in the future.

2. Selling Seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market
Also in May, we had the chance to sell lots of seedlings at the Withrow Farmers Market. Not knowing what to expect, I would say we did quite well selling lots of plants each time we were there. We definitely learned a lot being at the market as well. And it was more of the little things that we learned like arriving early to setup, having a banner and some sort of tent cover to help protect us from the elements, knowing which plants to bring, and more.

3. Avoided 2 parking tickets
There was one day during the middle of the month where I almost got 2 parking tickets. In both places, I knew I was parked in a spot where I shouldn’t have been, and both times I was getting back to my car just as the parking officer was showing up to write a ticket. One of the parking officers was really nice about it, and the other was a real jerk about it. I know they are just doing their jobs, but unfortunately they’re in probably one of the professions where most people don’t like it when they do their job well.

4. Start of the Ultimate Season
May also marked the start of our frisbee season. I’m playing on two teams again this year (Tofuriuos and Slam Dunks) on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I forgot how much I missed playing frisbee until I stepped on the pitch for the first time this season. There’s been a bit of turnover on both of my teams, but there are still lots of fun people on both teams that I know it’s going to be a great season!

5. Felix and Boris back in town
Coincidentally, two of my high school friends were back in town in May at the same time and I had a chance to catch up with both of them. It was nice getting together and going for a delicious Chinese vegetarian dinner

6. TFPC retreat and strategic planning session
After being elected to become a member of the TFPC (Toronto Food Policy Council), I had a chance to attend my first meeting with the group and it was a strategic planning session. Surprisingly, this was the first time in the council’s almost 20 year history. I had the privilege of meeting many of the esteemed members of the council (people who have definitely been around the food world and done lots of great things) and contribute to the future vision of the council.

Also, for the first public meeting of the council in June (on Wednesday), I’ll have an opportunity to be a part of a panel discussion about the future of the Food Connections Report recently passed by Toronto Public Health and which should be moving on to the main city council for a vote in the future.

7. Interesting Plants
This year, I’m trying out a number of new and interesting plants. As with all plants, it’s about experimenting and seeing what works for you and what works in our Toronto climate. Here are some of the interesting ones that I’m growing this year:

  • Purple snow peas
  • French lavender
  • Ginger mint
  • Globe basil
  • Thai basil
  • Cantaloupe
  • Tomatillo
  • Climbing nasturtiums
  • “Curry” herb (smells just like Indian curry!)

Looking forward, I’m sure June will bring more interesting events (I’m never one to just sit idly around) and more things to write about. I want to take some time to reconsider the direction of the blog as there hasn’t been any plan or direction so far. All of our gardens should be wrapped up very soon, and it’ll be time to start reaping the rewards of the harvest.


November 2009 Reflections

November has been an interesting and intriguing month. And while I’d like to think that things aren’t as busy for me with as we’ve wrapped up our growing season for the year, my schedule still seems to be filled with things to do. And honestly, I enjoy having a busy schedule, though it’s never too busy that I don’t have time for friends and people who matter in my life. Now, on to the main monthly recap:

1. Volunteer Fairs
At the beginning of the month, I participated in two volunteer fairs at UT Scarborough and UT St. George. The purpose was to recruit volunteers for our non-profit enterprise Young Urban Farmers CSA for all aspects of our organization for the growing season of 2010 including sales and marketing, public relations, finance and accounting, operations, and more. We had a great turnout, though the UT Scarborough turnout seemed much better than the St. George one, and it was wonderful to see so many students who are motivated and interested in volunteering for a good cause.

2. Joe/Christina’s Wedding
Congratulations to Joe and Christina, who recently started a new life together. It was a pleasure to celebrate this memorable event with you, and hope you enjoy what I think is one of the most awesome wedding gifts ever. A number of us pooled our funds together to get the new couple a 15′ canoe, with a couple of paddles and life jackets to boot. The greatest moment – walking down the church aisle with the canoe to present it to them after the wedding ceremony and seeing the look on their faces. It was brilliant.

3. Guelph Urban Agriculture Symposium
Also this month, I had the chance to attend an Urban Agriculture Symposium in Guelph. It was a great chance to meet other people involved with urban agriculture, who are interested in local and sustainable food, and a chance to see what other people are doing in this emerging field.

4. Toronto Community Garden Network strategic planning event
Continuing on with the networking events, the day after the urban agriculture symposium was a strategic planning event for the Toronto Community Garden Network – a group that is made up of interested and energetic individuals and organizations from across Toronto who are committed to greening and organic gardening across the City of Toronto and to making community gardening an integral part of city life. Again, it was another opportunity to get involved in the local community, meet interesting people, and hopefully contribute some ideas and suggestions to the group.

5. Betterment Movement Toronto
The last networking event that I went to was a last minute decision, but I’m glad that I went. Somehow I heard about this event called the Betterment Movement Toronto. It billed it self as an opportunity to “Hear the stories of people in action, making the world a better place!” And it was indeed inspiring and a great chance to meet a bunch of designers, as the organization who put this together was originally a community of designers.

6. Potluck Parties
Potluck parties are one of my favourite types of parties. You get to eat a variety of foods, participate in some fun activities (we played this board game called Bang!), and spend an evening with a group of fun people. I ended up making a chocolate pudding, which turned out much better than I had originally thought it would. Despite burning the milk (just a bit) and not having fresh mint (it was supposed to be a mint chocolate pudding), it still turned out great, with people asking for the recipe afterwards. Maybe my secret weapon/ingredient of burnt milk (though you couldn’t taste even a hint of it) made it that much more tasty…….. And if you want that recipe – honestly it’s a good recipe – you can find it here.

Reflections
In looking back at this past month, a couple of things come to mind. The first is that I’m grateful for all the people who have and who continually enrich my life. As much as I try to stay connected in the online world, life is best lived in the real world and it is these friendships and reationships that you make and experiences that you share with people that really matter and gives life that personal touch. Life is full of ups and downs, and having friends who can be there in good times and bad is essential. I think this was heightened by the number of networking events that I went to, and while I know that many people feel jaded and put off by these kinds of things, I think if you go in with an attitude of exploration, wonder, and open to opportunities, you’ll never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, and where it will take you.

This reminds me of a quote by Shunryu Suzuki which goes like this:
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

The other thing that I think defined my November was that it was a month of learning. I’m not perfect by any means, and don’t pretend or try to be. And so with the idea of approaching things from a beginner’s mind, I was able to try to look at things from a more objective perspective, think critically about what worked and what didn’t work, and how to improve on things. For example, we’ve been on campus recruiting for potential franchisees for our business, and our initial efforts were relatively weak. We tried a bunch of things, and realized that it wasn’t working too well and so we modified our actions, and saw better results the subsequent times we went recruiting. Learning can come from both success and failure, though I think it is in failure that we learn the most. Sure it hurts to fail, it hurts to feel rejected, and it’s hard to stay motivated, but it is in these times when our character gets tested that we experience the most growth and learning.

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative
– Woody Allen –

Looking forward, December is going to be a joyful month, with the holiday celebrations getting into full swing. I’ll be taking some time to do an annual review, some in-depth goal setting, and just enjoying this time of year. So cheers to the holiday season and may it be filled with love, joy and happiness.